The Anglican Church of England and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland want to strengthen their cooperation. But a recently published agreement is now causing discord in Britain.
It was to be an unprecedented "historic milestone" in the ecumenical movement in the United Kingdom. However, the full-throated "Columba Agreement" between the Anglican Church of England and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland is now causing discord between British Christians. And this despite the fact that it had not even come into effect yet.
In a press statement at Christmas, representatives of the two churches had released the 15-page contract named after an Irish missionary. More than five years of joint deliberations were needed to agree on the text, the Rev. John McPake of Scotland and the Bishop of Chester, Peter Forster, announced. The result sounds progressive indeed: the two churches are to "grow together" and "strengthen their partnership," according to the wording. In concrete terms, this means, for example, that in the future believers will be able to attend services of the other church. This would affect millions of believers in the U.K.
The Anglican Church came into being at the time of the Reformation in England. King Henry VIII. Broke with the pope in 1533 for refusing to annul King's marriage. As the head of a new state church, Henry VIII set himself up. in 1534 itself. Worldwide, the Anglican Church says it has about 85 million members. The Presbyterian Church of Scotland, also formed during the Reformation, is the national church there. It includes about 40 percent of the 5.3 million Scots.
Scottish Episcopal Church against the agreement
But one member church of the Anglican Communion is now vehemently opposed to the agreement, which is expected to be approved by the relevant bodies in the coming months: the Scottish Episcopal Church. Although their membership is only around 40.000, it could nullify the entire covenant. Scottish Primate and avid blogger David Chillingworth is currently doing his best to verbally torpedo the "Columba Declaration".
Although the 64-year-old clergyman himself was involved in the deliberations, he felt left out and demanded a new draft. The current declaration has caused "profound pain". And the good relations with the Church of England could be "seriously damaged".
Opening marriage to same-sex couples and ordination of women bishops
The Scottish Episcopal Church has always been known for special ways: In 17. century, it split from the Church of Scotland and, unlike the Presbyterians, remained faithful to the principle of Episcopalism (governance by bishops). More recently, Scotland's Anglicans attracted some attention with the opening of marriage to same-sex couples and the ordination of women bishops.
The fact that the "Columba Declaration" makes Primate Chillingworth uncomfortable has one main reason: the Anglican sister church in England explicitly calls on its members to attend services of the Presbyterians in Scotland. "But the Scottish partner of the Anglican community is us," is the not unjustified objection of the church leader. The faithful would be better off "making their own decision" after all.
Verbal spikes have an effect
Chillingworth also fears the English could send clergy to serve in Scotland – without Episcopal Church involvement. In his eyes, this would be a grave breach of "ecumenical etiquette".
The primate's verbal spikes do not miss their mark. For days, he has been making headlines in the British media with his criticism of the church pact. The Church of Scotland felt compelled to respond with a mollifying press release: It said it wanted to set up a joint "contact group" "to coordinate the various activities that make up our rich relationship". Fails to do so, 'Columba declaration' could end up doing ecumenism more harm than good.